When Roger Federer—all 30 years of him—is combining the deft with the diabolical on his favorite surface, there's little you can do but take a moment to appreciate that you are in the presence of greatness.
That was what Andy Murray ran into on Sunday afternoon at the All England Club. After four sets, the man with an entire nation's hopes upon his back had failed in his effort to unseat the greatest player to ever grace a tennis court.
Federer had his 17th major title and had tied Pete Sampras with seven Wimbledon championships. It was Federer's first since defeating another Andy—the American, Roddick—in the 2009 final. He did it in vintage fashion, unleashing a medley of powerful ground strokes with some positively brilliant approach shots, to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
It was Murray who had come out the stronger of the two, looking far more composed than Federer in the early portions of the first set. Considering that Murray had an entire nation's eyes upon him, and Federer was playing in his eighth Wimbledon final, it was a bit strange.
At 30-30 in the first game, two forehand misses from Federer allowed Murray to break him. The Scot was attacking Federer's forehand, successfully.
With some 32,000 in attendance on Henman Hill, 15,000 at Centre Court and some hundreds to thousands dispersed about the grounds, it was a true occasion.
Federer broke Murray to get back even at 2-2, going with his backhand as his forehand was not at its best just yet.
Every match in that set seemed to be going to deuce. While Federer had yet to muster a forehand winner, he was mixing that backhand—perhaps his most improved stroke during his lengthy and glittering career—with a number of terrific shots that kept Murray guessing.
After holding serve in a 10-minute game to bring the set to 4-4, Murray took two break points before breaking Federer to go up 5-4. In the subsequent game, Murray again took two points in advantage—this time for the set—force-feeding Federer backhands before taking the set at 6-4.
Federer held easily to open the second set, but the Swiss then wasted a break point along with several deuces to allow Murray to hold at 1-1.
Both men were holding serve brilliantly, although they were going the limit to do so. Games frequently entered into the realm of deuce, before the sixth and seven games of the set were won in four points.
After so many lengthy duels, it was a bit bizarre.
Federer finally succeeded in breaking Murray—the only break of the second set—and what a break it was.
Rushing to the net, Federer unleashed the most delicate of backhanded drop shots. Slicing from his racket, he aimed the ball just so at the arriving Murray. The shot bounced once, drawing Murray in with its hint of being reachable, but by the second bounce it had skipped into impossibility where a return was concerned.
It was brilliant, it was courageous, it was Federer at his best to win the set 7-5.
A rain delay broke up the third set. Lasting some 40 minutes as officials rushed to bring the roof over Centre Court, the rain continued to lash down upon the contraption as play resumed, audible despite the TV cameras' best efforts to soften its pattering.
Both players wasted little time in picking up right where they'd left off, and with fans continuing to mill back to their seats throughout the set, there were fears voiced by the announcers presiding over the proceedings that both players might be distracted.
That wouldn't prove to be the case.
On serve but down 0-40 in the sixth game, Federer began unleashing a torrent of powerful shots at Murray before playing a subtle forehand that dipped just over the net.
Murray charged toward it, but slipped and fell with a prodigious thump—perhaps due to the moisture accrued in the air from the roof's closing—and the game came to deuce.
Federer was pushing to break Murray, and began dictating the play just so. He was making a conscious effort to position himself so he could get more forehands. While it proved a risky venture on some occasions, the power he was able to generate and the points he was able to produce far outweighed the potential problems.
Unable to cope with a Federer whose confidence was beginning to bloom, Murray began venting his own frustration, which he'd largely kept in check up to that point in the match.
Murray's third slip in that decisive game—to be honest, one was more of a lunge than a slip, but still—came as he scrambled to the net.
His faltering allowed Federer to loft a winner that once again brought him to break point in that marathon.
He ended up winning the game, which had taken some 20 minutes—all of it exhilarating tennis—by hitting some truly unbeatable forehands. When he finally won that game, it was a shot that was simply a class above. The set now rested at 4-2 in his favor.
Despite going down 15-30 to start the next game, Federer rebounded quickly and won the next three points to go within a game of taking a two-sets-to-one advantage.
Murray's frustration, which was continuing to grow, came in marked contrast to the despondency Novak Djokovic had shown while facing Federer in Friday's semifinal. Murray was continuing to battle, but he seemed to be tipping precariously toward a danger level.
Federer ended the third set with an unstoppable ace. He followed that shot with a more gentle fist-pump, as he gave the slightest of turns and subsequent looks toward his entourage, collected in a courtside box just to his left.
His group was beside itself in jubilation, but Federer was all composure.
As the match crept toward its third hour, Murray was visibly tightening, and he began skipping about between points in an attempt to loosen his muscles.
Federer weathered an early storm from Murray in the fourth set, and eventually broke his serve to take it to 3-2.
He gave a mirror image of that wonderful sliced volley that had brought such a perfect close to the second set in the next game of the fourth, as if to show it was skill, not luck.
Whatever one felt, it was a supreme display of confidence from the Swiss master, who had personified poise and composure throughout the match. Federer almost seemed to be gliding about on the court, rolling back the years as his assurance began to undo Murray.
The crowd made one last desperate attempt to resuscitate the foundering Murray before what would prove to be the final game of the fourth set.
It would be for naught, however.
When he'd won, as he'd shown he would since that shot in the second set, Federer almost seemed taken by surprise, as if he'd expected Murray's shot, which bounced wide, to edge inbounds.
But Federer's subsequent slump to the grass—a mirror image, albeit a more muted one, of his celebration to mark his first Wimbledon title, won in 2003 against his idol Pete Sampras—showed how much it meant to him.
The man is nearly 31—his birthday falls one month exactly from the Wimbledon final—but on Sunday he looked at least five years younger.
Soon to be christened the No. 1 player in the world, yet again, Federer sat in his courtside chair for about five minutes after the match had ended, tears streaming down his face, a look of near-disbelief (or maybe relief) upon his face.
It was the opposite of the spectrum to Murray, who could not hide his own tears as he addressed the crowd in accepting his runner's-up plate.
So many games, so many matches, and all to come up two sets short in a final where you'd carried the burden of 74 years of history (marking the last time a British man, Fred Perry, won Wimbledon) so nobly. Murray played quite well, but could not hold a candle to a Federer who'd rediscovered that reserve of unquantifiable brilliance.
Federer, no stranger to breaking down after seeing his best effort come up far too short in a Major final, offered words of consolation, but he seemed to realize—from personal experience, which leads to the best approaches—that Murray just wanted to say his bit and be on his own.
To his credit, Murray signed some 10 items of paraphernalia before seeking the quiet of the locker room. His last signature etched on one of those jumbo Wimbledon commemorative balls, he quietly ducked into the post-match tunnel, disappearing from view.
But not, one thinks, for long. As Federer put it so eloquently in his acceptance speech, Murray has got some titles in him.